The one about Mary

God has always been near to the lowly and seen those that others ignore and pass by. So when it came time for him to decide on the vessel that would bring his redeeming grace into the world, he looked where nobody else had bothered to look before; to a young Jewish woman named Mary. The time in which Mary lived was not an easy one for women. Their culture saw them as second class citizens, they received no education, they could not own property, and they did not count as a valid witness in court. The first statement Jesus made with his coming was made when Mary became pregnant: “The King of Kings is not coming in a way that you would expect…get ready.”
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The one about Christmas TV

It’s a week until Christmas and I’m getting really excited. I’ve always loved Christmas, and now that I have 3 young children in my life it’s even more fun. I just love the whole feeling of the holiday. Being warm and cozy by the fire, staying in my pajama’s all day, and most of all watching Christmas programs. Everyone has their list of favorite Christmas movies and I’m no exception. I thought today though I would focus on another Christmas watching tradition I started a few years ago; watching Christmas episodes of my favorite TV shows. This is a great way to get a holiday TV fix even if you don’t have time to watch a whole movie. Most of these episodes do not require you to know much about the over arching season story to enjoy them. So, even if you’ve never seen an episode of the show mentioned you will still enjoy the Christmas episodes. I’ve whittled this list down to my top 5 episodes. (with one bonus choice because I couldn’t help myself), so here we go!

Community season 1 ep 12 “Comparative Religion”: Community might be one of the most creative sitcoms to come on television in the last decade. What started as a show about a man who faked his law degree having to go back to school to get a real degree has become a show that takes existing genres and TV tropes and turns them on their heads. This episode from the first season finds the study group figuring out the best way to celebrate the upcoming holiday when they all come from such different religious backgrounds. What I love about the episode (besides how funny it is) is how respectful it is of uber Christian Shirley’s character. Shirley is going through a divorce and so has decided her study group is her new family. This leads her to insensitively push her religious leanings on their holiday party and it makes the other members of the group very uncomfortable, The show points out how wrong Shirley is, but it also allows her feelings to be given value and her study group friends are still there for her even she when she goes a little crazy. It’s a lovely message about coming together at the holiday season. Plus it is absolutely hysterical. Some other highlights to look for

  • Anthony Michael Hall guest starring as a bully who desperately wants to fight Jeff (Joel McHale)
  • The discussion of all the different religions represented in the group and the jokes that come from that
  • Shirley’s religiously neutral version of “Silent Night” that is sung over the credits.
  • This joke

How I Met Your Mother season 2 ep 11 “How Lily Stole Christmas”: How I Met Your Mother sees the main character Ted Mosby telling his future children the story of how he met their mom. The show isn’t one of my favorites now, (they’ve been on the air too long), but season 2 might be the best season of the show. This episode deals with the fallout of Lily calling off her engagement to Ted’s best friend Marshall. The two have gotten back together but Ted isn’t quite over what Lily did. This leads to tension around the holidays. Highlights of this episode include

  • future Ted using the term “grinch” to describe Lily and being quick to tell us that he wasn’t actually calling her a grinch, but rather a much worse word.
  • Barney falling asleep during his “legen…wait for …dary” catchphrase because he’s so sick
  • This throw away joke

The Office season 2 ep 10 “Christmas Party”: Oh this episode. This episode has given me so many Christmas gems. Michael (the hilarious Steve Carell) gets upset when his secret Santa gift is only a homemade oven mitt so he decides to do a YAAAAANKEEEE SWAAAP instead. This was the first episode of “The Office” I ever saw and I was immediately hooked. It is quite literally laugh out loud funny. Some highlights

  • “Well, Happy Birthday Jesus. Sorry your party’s so lame.”
  • “Presents are the best way to show someone how much you care. It is like this tangible thing that you can point to and say ‘Hey man, I love you this many dollars worth.'”
  • “Angela drafted me into the party planning committee. Her memo said that we need to prepare for every possible disaster. Which to me, seems… excessive.”
  • The Yankee Swap Exchange:

Veronica Mars season 1 ep 10 “An Echolls Family Christmas: When it was announced that “Veronica Mars” would continue as a movie in 2014 I almost passed out from excitement. This show was one of my favorites when I was in high school. The series focuses on a high school private detective named Veronica and the first season finds her solving “cases of the week” while also trying to figure out who is behind the murder of her best friend Lily Kane. (It’s definitely noir television). Even if you’ve never seen an episode of this show you can watch this episode without being confused. There is one mystery of the week and not much else is mentioned about the season long mystery. I love this episode because it features some first rate snark between Veronica and her love hate partner Logan Echolls. Other highlights include:

  • Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin as Logan’s parents
  • The way Veronica reveals she knows who stole the money (the shots and the music and the look of glee on her face are amazing)
  • “Annoy tiny blonde one. Annoy like the wind”
  • I couldn’t find a clip of the above line (which is my favorite) so I’m including this one, but be warned there are spoilers so don’t watch it if you are planning on seeing the whole episode at some point

American Dreams season 1 ep 10 “Silent Night”: This was a show on NBC in the early part of the 2000’s that followed a young girl named Meg Pryor (Brittany Snow) living in Philadelphia in the early 1960’s. She is a dancer on the popular teen show “American Bandstand.” This show was amazing and I’m still so sad that only one out of its three seasons is available on DVD. I think because of all the really expensive music that is used on the show the DVD’s are too expensive to produce, but it’s really a shame. The Christmas episode features Meg and her dance partner on the show, Jimmy Riley, being chosen as one of the favorite couples of the year. This means they will need to kiss under the mistletoe which freaks Meg out because 1)She and Jimmy are not really together 2) She’s never kissed anyone before and 3) She is afraid it will make her actual crush Luke (her younger sister’s piano teacher) upset. This show is adorable there is really no other way to describe it. If you can watch this episode you really should. Highlights include

  • The dinner scenes between the family being the most realistic I have ever seen on TV (everyone talking over each other)
  • The 60’s era music
  • The wonderful montage at the end of the episode set to Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
  • Again I couldn’t find just a quick clip of this episode but I’m including the whole last part of the episode because it’s hard to find this anywhere but on DVD, and it’s super amazing. Once again spoiler alert (skip to 8:49 to see the montage I’m talking about)

I have to mention one more from “Community” season 2. This episode finds Abed imagining that everything in his life is stop motion animated. The reasons why are explained in the plot. I had to include this on my list because visually this episode is stunning! Take a look at the opening credits below

So there you have it! Just a few of my favorite Christmas television episodes. Feel free to leave your own nominations in the comments!

The one about being silent

This is the fourth part of an ongoing series delving in Sarah Bessey’s book “Jesus Feminist”. The other entries can be found here.

I loved the movie The Wizard of Oz when I was a kid. I loved the songs, I loved the ruby red slippers and my favorite character was the Scarecrow. (I did not love the flying monkeys or the mean apple throwing trees but that is a topic for another time.) But honestly, my favorite part of the whole movie was the moment Dorothy stepped out of her house and into Munchkinland. This was the moment the movie went from boring black and white to glorious color. I could finally see that Dorothy was wearing a blue dress! The yellow brick road was actually yellow! And the Wicked Witch of the West was a bright shade of green! To me, the movie didn’t really begin until that transition from black and white to color.

I mentioned in my last entry that when it came to understanding the motivations of people in power I wanted to denote them as all good or all bad instead of being willing to see the nuance. The “and” instead of the “or”. I think that desire for a right or wrong answer gets even more powerful when we start talking about theology. Bessey defines theology as “…simply what we think about God and then living that truth out in our right-now life.” (p. 55) Theology can be divisive but Bessey (and I) wish it didn’t have to be. She writes, “People want black-and-white- answers, but Scripture is a rainbow arch across a stormy sky. Our sacred book is not an indexed answer book or life manual.” That line struck me and brought me back to the movie The Wizard of Oz. The movie up until it switches to color always bored me. In fact I usually fast forwarded that whole section to get to the good parts. And yet, in my spiritual life I can crave the dullness of a black and white world. I want everything to be that simple. This is right, this is wrong. This is wrong all the time, and this is right all the time.

Bessey tells her readers that she wants them to wrestle with the Bible like Jacob wrestled with the angel. (p. 56) If you don’t remember that story it ends with Jacob having a broken hip! That is some intense wrestling! In my own walk through theology and faith I’ve reached what is simultaneously a freeing and terrifying thought; aside from a very few key issues (divinity of Christ, Jesus being the only way to salvation, loving God and our neighbors) most of my questions do not have black and white answers. I’ve held this belief for awhile now, but this past week in particular it seems that God wants to re-iterate it over and over again. First it was mentioned in Bessey’s book, in my own personal life I made a choice that firmly put me “in the gray” of my faith, and in my advent reading this quote from  Dietrich Bonhoeffer jumped off the page at me.

“How we fail to understand when we think that the task of theology is to solve the mystery of God, to drag it down to the flat ordinary wisdom of human experience and reason! It’s sole office is to preserve the miracle as miracle, to comprehend, defend and glorify God’s mystery precisely as mystery.” (“God Is In The Manger” p.45)

Even those that would insist they do not subscribe to a “pick and choose” theology have to admit that in some circumstances they do just that. As Bessey points out, “…we sift our theology through Scripture, Church history and tradition, our reason, and our own experience.” (p. 57) Why does she go through all of this trouble (almost half of chapter four!) to talk about theology and our struggle with it? Because when we make the majority of our theology black and white “We read a few verses about women in a vacuum of literalism and prideful laziness.” (p. 58) Oh yes, we are tackling Paul’s instructions for women to be silent in the church. Buckle up!

No matter what side of the women in ministry issue you fall on, these verses (found in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians) can be highly divisive. I know as a women who believes in equality of leadership when someone quotes these verses as a reason against women in leadership I feel my whole being shudder in anger. So for the rest of this entry I will be practicing my more gentle approach and try not to turn over any tables. Bessey does not claim to have all the answers and is quick to point out that we will never get definitive answers on a lot our questions this side of eternity. But she endeavors to unpack as much as she can out of these troublesome verses. For clarity I am going to quote the passages in questions below.

“Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.” 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (NLT)

“Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly.” 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (NLT)

I’m ignoring those tables in the corner of my eye. I’m not going to turn them over. I’m not. Gentle spirit. Gentle spirit. I’m writing tongue in cheek but any woman knows the real pain that comes when sentiments like the above are expressed with real feeling to her. I love that Bessey’s first step is to ask people to acknowledge this pain and not hid behind a “well I didn’t say it; God said it” mentality. (p. 62) Men, even if you believe in the validity of these verses for women today you need to still acknowledge that being told to be silent purely because of your gender is painful. What makes this sentiment especially painful is that a woman gets this message constantly from the world around her in big and small ways. She gets that message when she’s called a bitch for asserting herself while a man who does the same is called powerful. She gets that message when she’s paid less for doing the same job as man. She gets that message when her job doesn’t give her paid family leave. She gets that message when someone asks how she was acting or what she was wearing the night she was raped. She gets that message when her father decides to marry her to man decades older than her. She gets that message when she is forced to undergo female circumcision. She gets that message when she is sold into sex slavery. Over and over again women are told by the world around them that they need to stay silent. And when she runs to the church for safety, if she’s confronted with these verses it hurts in an even more powerful way. The place she has run to for safety is sending her the same hurtful message she gets everywhere else.

Men, you don’t have to change your theology to acknowledge the pain that women sometimes feel when they read these verses. And men who believe in gender equality of leadership, this is why your sisters in Christ can sometimes “go off” when these verses are quoted. We are tired of hearing we need to be quiet. I’m not just tired. I’m frustrated. I get frustrated because as Bessey points out the verses in question are not universal standards. “They are a portion of the letters from the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, written to specific people in specific cities for specific situations that had arisen.” (p. 62 emphasis mine)

Oh specificity. My new favorite word. You are so important when it comes to these passages. If you are part of a church that believes in equality of leadership some of the following may already be known to you, but bear with me. I think it needs repeating. Bessey points out the following

  • Women in the community of God were leading, teaching, ministering, and prophesying at the time of the letters Paul wrote to Timothy and to the Corinthian church. (p. 63)
  • In 1 Corinthians 14:39 (just a few verses after our problem passage) Paul was encouraging the women of the church to prophesy alongside their brothers (p. 63)

So now we are back to that word again; specific. What is more likely? Paul contradicting himself in matter of four verses? Or that he was speaking to specific people about specific problems?  Bessey (and I) tend to think the latter. She talks about how women flocked to the church in Corinth in droves because the church loved, valued, cared for, and affirmed them in ways the rest of the world did not. The Church represented freedom to these women. She goes on to point out that “Many scholars believe that in the exhilaration of their new found freedom, a group of women were disrupting the meeting with questions and opinions, and Paul, as a reminder, asked them to learn in quietness and talk it over at home with their husbands.” (p. 64) Again, if you are from an egalitarian church this interpretation is not new, but I still think it’s worth pointing out again. Paul is not advocating that women don’t learn. He’s pointing out the value of order in the service. This is not a gender issue. It’s a people issue.  

Moving from the Corinthian passage to the Timothy passage we deal with a translation issue AND specificity issue. Bessey tells us that the world quietly found in Timothy is not silence like the Corinthian passage. It is the Greek word hesuchia:

“which means ‘stillness’-more along the lines of peacefulness or minding one’s own business. It’s not about talking versus not talking; it’s about learning in a still way, far from meddling in other people’s affairs…I never learn much myself when I’m constantly interrupting and questioning or applying the lesson to everyone else first. Sometimes we learn the most in stillness and peace.” (p.67)

So yet again Paul is speaking specifically to a group of women, not all women for all time. The Bible is perfect, but the culture the Bible was written in was not perfect. When we approach the Bible without an appreciation for the time period it was written in, we miss the whole picture. The church was radically feminist when it began. It doesn’t look radically feminist to us today until we look closer at the culture. In a time period where a woman’s word was not valued in court, when women were not educated, when women were owned first by their father then by their husbands, Paul came along and reminded everyone that in Christ “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) When women demand equality from their churches we are not demanding anything outside of its history. The church was always ahead of the surrounding culture when it came to women. As Bessey emphatically writes “When women are restricted from the service of God in any capacity, the Church is mistakenly allowing an imperfect male-dominated ancient culture to drive our understanding and practice of Christ’s redeeming work, instead of Jesus Christ and the whole of the Scriptures.”

Asking whether a women should be allowed to teach in church based on these two passages of Scripture makes no sense to me. The church always had a place for women in every capacity and was always up front about believing in everyone’s equality in Christ. Paul was writing letters to specific people to address specific problems they were encountering. I would shudder to think that in the future someone would take my personal messages to a close female friend and apply those principles to every female from that moment on, so why do some of us try to do that with Paul? The lessons we carry from Paul’s letters have to do with service order and how to learn with a gentle and quiet spirit. Those are lessons that both genders can and should hear. I will end with a quote Bessey uses from Loren Cunningham the founder of Youth With A Mission:

“So, should women be silent? Yes, just like the men. Should women be prepared to minister with ‘a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue of interpretation’? Yes, just like the men. Should women exercise self-control as they minister? Yes, just like the men. Should women seek to educate themselves so that they can better edify others when they minister? Yes, just like the men. ‘For God is not a God of disorder but of peace'” (p. 68)

What about you? Have you ever heard these interpretations of Paul’s message before? Do you agree with them? Why or why not? Are there other areas of specificity in the Bible that we have less of problem dealing with than here? Leave any and all thoughts in the comment

The One about my history (Jesus Feminist Study pt 3)

This is the third part of an ongoing series delving into Sarah Bessey’s book “Jesus Feminist”. The other entries can be found here.

I’m taking a different approach to covering chapter three. Mostly because Bessey herself takes a different approach. She uses this chapter to talk about her own history of faith and feminism, the ups and the downs; the history that lead her to her present. So I decided to do the same thing. I wanted to use this entry to share a little bit of my own history as a Jesus Feminist.

I’ve written and joked before about how spotty my memory is, so a reader of my blog would not be remiss in wondering just how I’m going to recount a history that I probably barely remember. I will say that while specific stories may be few and far between, feelings and general understandings have always stuck with me even without specificity drawing me to them. With that in mind I will begin.

I grew up with parents who loved God in a truly relational way. Of course church was important, (I spent most days of the week there from infancy onward) but what they wanted the most for my sister and me was for us to have a personal trans-formative relationship with Jesus. My world growing up was very female centric. I had no brothers, and outside of my immediate family the only cousins I regularly saw were all girls. I had two aunts that I regularly interacted with only one of whom was married. (My other aunt did not marry until I was closer to pre-teen age). I say all of this to say that it would never have occured to me to place women in a certain sphere. The women in my life were in every sphere, stay at home mothers, working mothers, you name it I knew a woman who did it.

Spiritually this was also true. My spiritual growth was impacted by women of God from the very beginning. It was Sister Mabel Jones who lead me in the prayer to ask Jesus into my heart when I was 4 years old in her Sunday School class. (As a side note, all of the women in my church were referred to as Sister____ as a sign of respect to show that we were brothers and sisters in Christ.) It was Sister Helen who taught me about Passover and the amazing miracle God performed to rescue his people from bondage. It was Sister Rubie and Sister Sandy who song after song taught me doctrinal truth as well as the order of the books of the Bible. (Anyone remember the song “Little is Much?”) These women are just the tip of the iceberg. The pages of my childhood are filled with women of God who poured into my life in amazing and valuable ways.

Of course there were men of God who influenced me as well and I am just as grateful for them. Not only for what they taught me but for their willingness to work side by side with their sisters in ministry. If anyone had asked me as a child and pre teen if women should be allowed to lead the same as men, I’m not sure I would have understood the question. There were places where people thought women couldn’t do those things? It wasn’t possible! This is just my perspective of course. I don’t pretend to know any of the politics that might have been happening behind the scenes of my childhood. Maybe there were hard fought battles, and maybe there were not. All I know is that what trickled out to me was a clear understanding that God calls people to do his work. That’s it. Just people.

In college, when I began to understand that some people believed women were unable to hold certain leadership positions I experienced two emotions almost simultaneously; anger and self righteousness. I was angry that people dared to believe that I was unable to perform certain tasks for the body of Christ just because I was a woman. But I also felt a sense of pride as well. After all my church believed that women could be senior pastors. My denomination believed that women could hold all the same leadership positions as men. We were so much more enlightened than these other people who didn’t see women as equal to men.

And then I began to feel a little uneasy in my gut. Sure, my church believed that women could be in leadership. It said so right in the statement of our doctrinal beliefs. But, how many women senior pastors did I know in my denomination? How many women preached from the pulpit of the church I attended every Sunday? Does it really matter if a church believes in equality of women in leadership if they don’t actually put it into practice? I wasn’t the only one noticing this. My friends who attended other churches were coming to the same conclusions completely separate from me,  and we were all asking the same question. Belief and practice were not lining up and it was very distressing.

For a long time I waffled back and forth between sadness and anger not knowing where to land. I couldn’t draw a connecting line between those who thought women shouldn’t be in leadership and the men that lead the churches I attended. The pastors I interacted with valued women. I knew this because I experienced it and saw other women in my life experience it as well.There were so many strong female spiritual leaders in the church I had grown up in and every church I had attended since; they just didn’t have the title of pastor.  And yet, I couldn’t deny that it rubbed me the wrong way to see the absence of women on boards, in the pulpit, and in spheres outside what is typically considered “women’s ministry.)  There were women in my life who were not only eager but qualified to serve and yet for whatever reason were not being given that opportunity. It was disheartening to say the least.

I’m not going to wrap this up with a neat bow. I didn’t come to an easy solution. In fact I haven’t come to any solution at all yet. At least not a typical one. Bessey experienced this type of tension in her own life as well and I love the solution she talks about in the book. She says “We must lean into pain instead of resisting it.”(p.51) It was painful to question the very system I came to know Christ in. It is true though that by leaning into the pain I’ve began to see a way out of it. I often want the answers I seek to be a zero sum game where someone is right or someone is wrong; someone is bad or someone is good. But leaning into righteous pain has taught me that the answers I seek are not “or” but “and”. The churches I have been a part of have always valued women, AND they also need to work on putting their theology into practice. That’s ok. I’m constantly working on putting my theology into practice. I think I’ll be working on that until the day Jesus comes back. I can be patient with my church family because I love them and they love me. What I need to do is not give up. The body is made up of many parts. I see one of my roles as being a reminder that while we are doing well with gender equality leadership, we still have work to do.

And honestly, there is nothing more encouraging than the men that have been and continue to come into my life that push for just that. The pastor who places women in leadership roles without a second thought and preaches about women from the pulpit not just on Mother’s Day and at Christmas. The pastor who hires a woman to be the youth pastor at his church. The father who always let me know not just in words but in actions that he valued the spiritual leadership of my mother and expected great things from my spiritual life as well. These men and others like them join the women I mentioned in the beginning as people who shaped the woman I have became. A woman who calls herself a Jesus Feminist.

What about you? What is your personal story? Did you grow up in a community that saw women and men as equals? If not when did you begin to change your own mind? Do you see the value in ideology informing practice? Leave your comments below!